Category Archives: Earth Day

Stewards of the Environment

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains, and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation, to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen. 1979 Book of Common Prayer

Another Earth Day (April 22) has come and gone. It is now May, the flowers are blooming and the trees are thickening each day with shades of green foliage. Robins hop around my front lawn in search of fresh worms after the recent spring shower and the finches are rebuilding their annual nest in the straw wreath that hangs by my front door. I can easily sit back and watch Mother Nature unfold. But I also realize that the seasons during this past year have been unusual. In 2011, Connecticut had over 4 feet of snow, in 2012 we had a few dustings. We had a week of 80-degree weather in March and the forsythia, magnolias, tulips and daffodils all blossomed 6 weeks earlier than usual.

Our environment is changing. Whether this is all God’s plan or not, we humans have responsibility for the care of the Earth, our garden home. We are currently facing extreme climate variability – the earth’s warming is occurring 10 times faster than had previously been estimated and the polar ice sheets are dropping at 10 meters per year. One of the qualities of leaders of the future will be to have “bio-empathy” – the ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect and learn from nature’s patterns. Nature has its own clarity, if only we humans can understand and engage with it.

I believe it is the responsibility of our faith community to lead the way in teaching how to be good stewards of our environment. And it can start in our own churches, modeling good practices: recycling all bottles, cans and paper; not using Styrofoam coffee cups (better yet – use real dishes); using electronic means for communication; not relying on print paper for Sunday bulletins. Add your own ideas!

The climate challenge is about respect for God’s creation. How could the wisdom of our Christian tradition help people engage with the dilemmas of extreme climate change? What is the carbon footprint (the contribution you are making to global warming) of your church?  How can churches prepare to react with vision, understanding, clarity and agility in facing the challenge before us and future generations?

There aren’t easy answers and it’s not something we can each do on our own. But individual working together can make a difference. Check out these places to start:

And some formational resources:

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. 

In God we live and move and have our being . . .

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Acts 17:24-28

It’s been two years since I spent 8 days disconnected to the world.  It was a time I was also most connected to the earth. No phone, no e-mail. No electricity or plumbing. Water. Rock. Sand. Open sky. I was an insignificant fleck in the midst of something too large to fathom.

Along with my husband and our two 20-something children, we were on an adventure of a lifetime. We were rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  Along with nine other adults and two guides, we embarked at Lee’s Ferry just over the border from southern Utah onto one of the Colorado’s tributaries. It looked like an ordinary river with some interesting cliffs springing out of the ground. After stopping under a shaded outcropping of rock for introductions and safety instructions, the water began to have a life of its own. From then on it was water, shale, limestone, sandstone, and more water. Colors and shadows changed with every turn. Silence, except for the water lapping onto the sides of the pontoons. Or the screams of all of us as we hung on for dear life going through a rapid, to come out at the bottom laughing and shivering from the frigid waters that drenched our skin.

August 9, 1869 – “The river turns sharply to the east and seems enclosed by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems, which bedeck the wall. The rocks are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants.” Major John Wesley Powell from his exploratory expedition journal into “. . . the Great Unknown.”

Layer after layer we went back in time as we floated farther into the Canyon. The dark contorted rocks of the Inner Gorge are the ancient, highly metamorphosed remains of even older sedimentary and igneous rocks. How ancient? Detailed studies of radioactive elements reveal that the Canyon’s oldest rock, the Vishnu Schist, was metamorphosed some 1.7 billion years ago. I couldn’t help but think, “In the beginning, God created . . .”

The rhythm of the water and the lights of the heavens marked our days and nights. We were up at sunrise and usually in our sleeping bags soon after the light left the canyon. Meals were prepared wherever we found a flat place to “park” and set up camp. Lying on my back, with my glasses on, I fell asleep under the Milky Way with more stars than I had ever seen before; I was in a living planetarium.

Each morning we awoke to the sound of birds, sitting up in our bedrolls to discover the tiny tracks of the ringtail cats that had circled us while we slept on the sand. The early sunshine glowed red off the canyon walls; shades of orange on what had been pink the evening before. What would this day bring? What part of creation would we experience for the first time?

Although most of the Grand Canyon is dry and arid, it teems with life. Day hikes into side canyons gave us opportunities to discover tree frogs, sand verbena and evening primrose. Every crevice, every rock and every stream opened up God’s creation to us in new and unexpected ways. Tiny desert flowers and cacti of all varieties grew out of the rock. Small streams trickling down the side of cliffs would host moss and fern. Mule deer and Desert Bighorn Sheep were common sights, once hunted by the native peoples of the Canyon, the Hualapai. Today their descendants, the Havasupai Indians, try to live by the traditional concept of harmony with all life. They want to preserve the natural beauty of their homeland, believing themselves to be inseparable from the land. Could I live here forever?

A week later, the canyon walls began to lower, and we began our entrance into Lake Mead. On the last day of our voyage, civilization began to creep back . . . helicopter tours circling above us, catching a glimpse the ‘viewing bridge’ placed over a side portion of the canyon for tourists. The Canyon was behind us, but the dust remained in us – in our shoes, our clothes, under our skin. The dust of the earth of which we were created.

In Acts, Paul speaks to the Athenians about God as creator of all, and of the irrelevance of temples that cannot contain the divine reality. We had been in a temple made by God. All of creation is God’s temple. Paul harkens back to Genesis, and the creation of the world. Such is the Grand Canyon. Impossible to be made by human hands, but filled with life where many would say it could not exist. Ever changing, slowly through the millennia.

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We are just a small part of God’s immense, indescribable creation. The “Great Unknown” might be around the next corner or river bend, where we can see God working in us and around us and through us. Water. Rock. Sand. Sky. Such is the stuff of life. Such is the stuff of the Creator.

The Earth’s Re-Creation

Pele

While the volcano in Iceland was creating havoc for travelers and the airlines in Europe and beyond, I gained a new understanding of how the earth is continually being renewed and ‘growing’ through this same type of chaos and destruction.

Thanks to Keane Akao, our host for Disciples’ Journey 2010 in the Diocese of Hawai’i, I joined several Christian formation colleagues in observing a native practitioner offer prayers and gifts to Pele at the edge of the Kilauea crater on O’ahu. We stood in silence as he draped himself with a red cloth and white cloth and began to chant. His movements and expressions sang to Pele, giving thanks and asking for discernment for those of us gathered. Kneeling, standing and reaching out to her, his hands and arms as well as voice told a story, even though the dialect was foreign to us. After tossing offerings, including poi in ti-leaves, he began to drum and chant. Softly and to a crescendo, many of us observed a bird flying in the crater. Others noticed the color of the volcano’s plume grow grayer and dark while expanding. Lastly, he crept, kneeling to the edge of the crater, leaning over the precipice to offer one last prayer. He slowly backed up on his knees, to join us as we walked away, having given our prayers to the goddess.

We had a chance to ask questions and learn more after we had a time for reflection. It was a sacred moment and one of those ‘thin places’ that one often describes when the holy is near. Some might say we participated in a pagan ceremony as observers. But it was one of majesty, understanding that there is something beyond us that is continually part of creation – not man made. We concluded by singing the doxology – 5 of us in English, and Keane and our guide in Hawaiian.

Later that day, we journeyed to the ocean, to see where the anger of Pele flows into the sea. Although it was

Kilauea Crater

daytime and we couldn’t see the fire and flows, the black lava flows were warm to the touch and the crevasses were glowing orange. It was desolate and beautiful at the same time. Little wisps of fern were poking through the hard rock. The island is growing each day. With each lava flow and eruption, more land is made. The earth is being re-created continually.

Whatever culture we call our own, we are small in comparison to the forces of nature, the beauty of the earth, and the Spirit that broods over the waters and land of this island Earth, that we call home.

New Life
Lava Flow frozen in time

From Barren to Fruitful

An early bloom from one of my magnolia trees.

My garden is confused. This past week seemed like June instead of April. It has been a week of unseasonable weather. Following a Nor’easter one week and another of monsoon rains, this week saw sunshine and record high temperatures.  Forsythia usually blooms in southwestern Connecticut around April 15th, followed by the tulips, lilacs and magnolia trees a month later. This week, they all bloomed together.

There’s been lots of pro and con editorials in my local newspaper whether global warming really exists. With the huge cold and snowfall this winter, several ‘locals’ say it’s a scientist’s imagination. But global warming is about dramatic fluctuations and erratic weather patterns. March and April are prime examples that our planet is in danger.

April 22nd is Earth Day. Lots of communities and churches will note the day with ceremony, events and prayer. But what about the

Early flowering lilacs.

other 364 days? There are lots of resources for individuals and faith communities to reflect on what it means to be a steward of God’s creation. And how to protect what we have left for future generations.

Faith & Nature: The Divine Adventure of Life on Earth by Phyllis Strupp  (Morehouse Education Resources, 2010) is an intergenerational spiritual formation program that explores and embraces how God is at work in nature. It is a downloadable resource here. You can preview another award-winning book by Phyllis called The Richest of Fare about spirituality in the Sonoran Desert.

To Serve and Guard the Earth by Beth Bojarski (Morehouse Education Resources, 2010) connects the growing Christian environmental concern with the theology of creation in Genesis. It too is a downloadable resource for adults and high school youth.

The National Council of Churches of Christ’s Eco-Justice Network also offers numerous programs on sustainability, climate justice, global warming, and stewardship of the environment.

The Season of Creation is designated as four weeks in September, but can be celebrated at any time of year. Rogation Days in the spring time as well as The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 6th might also be considered. The Web of Creation as well as the Season of Creation websites have lots of ideas to offer.

Speaking of Faith for Small Groups: Sustainable Faith is a downloadable resource with MP3 files to continue the conversation from Krista Tippett’s popular radio program. Discuss your role as a steward of the planet and how to make sense of the current climate of challenging political and environmental issues. Inspire conversation and introspection about the choices we make about nourishing ourselves, both nutritionally and spiritually. Hear from experts working to meet needs on the frontlines of suffering in both Africa and New Orleans. Meet a host of inspirational people brave enough to challenge the establishment to ensure that both the planet and the people who inhabit it are protected.

An early busy bee

A Reflection on our Present Plight
Hildegard of Bingen

The high,
the low
all of creation
God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused,
God’s Justice permits creation to punish humanity.